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Huib Drion, 87, led Netherlands to legalize euthanasia

AMSTERDAM -- Huib Drion, a former Dutch supreme court justice who was a major force behind the legalization of euthanasia in the Netherlands, died Tuesday. He was 87.

A spokesman for the city of Leiden, where Mr. Drion lived for more than 40 years, said he had no information on the cause of death.

Dutch state television said he "died in his sleep" -- which would make it unlikely that Mr. Drion had been euthanized, because under Dutch law doctors must be present.

Mr. Drion sparked debate on mercy killings with his essay "Voluntary Death for Old People," published in 1991, seven years after he retired from the high court.

He wrote that elderly people "should be able to walk to a doctor -- either their family doctor or a specialist -- to get the means by which they can put an end to their lives in a manner that's acceptable for themselves and their loved ones." His complex proposal for a two-step suicide system was summarized by the Dutch media as the "Drion Pill," a term that remains synonymous with doctor-assisted suicide in the Netherlands today.

In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia for certain terminally ill patients, but only under strict guidelines. Patients must show their decision to die is rational and reasoned, and that their suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement.

Mr. Drion was a professor of civil law at the University of Leiden, and a founder of "De Geus," a resistance newspaper published during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.

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